What to see and do in Pisa this Christmas

Pisa is a popular tourist haunt at any time of year, with even the least clued-up traveller sure to have heard of attractions like the Leaning Tower. But it’s even more impressive at Christmas, when decorations adorn the streets and various special events are held.

Located in the central Italian region of Tuscany, Pisa is undoubtedly one of our favourite Italian cities to visit in the run-up to the festive period. Milan may have its shopping and Venice its canals, but it’s hard to beat Pisa’s traditional Christmas markets, beautiful illuminations and cheerful seasonal atmosphere. If you’re planning a visit to Pisa this Christmas, our top tips will fill you in on the best sights to see and events to attend in the city…

Check out the Christmas lights

For the best possible view of festive Pisa, head to Corso Italia and Borgo Stretto, where the colourful lights of the Christmas decorations are sure to fill you with seasonal spirit.

Borgo Stretto is widely considered to be the most elegant street in the city. If you want to combine seeing the decorations with the chance to pick up an elegant and memorable present for a loved one, you’ll be in the right place, as it’s lined with high-end shops and boutiques. A small square on Borgo Stretto also hosts a Christmas market, where you can browse a wide array of decorations and more.

All shopped out? Recharge your batteries with a well-earned drink in one of the street’s many picturesque bars, or head to Salza, which is arguably the city’s best loved pastry shop.

Earn your Christmas dinner by running the Pisa Marathon

Christmas has become a time of excess, with people doing their best to eat their body weight in turkey, pigs in blankets and mince pies. So what better way to prepare for this year’s seasonal overindulgence than running a marathon?

The 2012 Pisa Marathon will take place on December 16th and boasts a spectacular route that sets off from one of the most beautiful squares in the world.

It combines plenty of flat stretches and long straights, so if you’re an experienced runner, there’s every chance of beating your personal best, while relative newcomers should find the race isn’t too demanding.

If you’re not feeling up to tackling the full 26-mile course, there are also half marathon and family run events that may prove a little more appealing.

Enough exercise, bring on the chocolate

Okay, so running a marathon isn’t for everyone. If you’d prefer to spend your Christmas in Pisa exercising your sweet tooth, head to the factory of luxury chocolatier Amedei.

Situated in Pontedera, about half an hour’s drive from the city centre (you should easily be able to find car hire in Pisa), the Amedei factory offers tours all year round, giving visitors an insight into the world of chocolate.

The factory opens its doors to the public from Monday to Friday, with tours lasting for around an hour and a half. Tickets are priced at €50 (£40) per person.

See the Scuola Normale of Pisa in concert

Founded back in 1810, the Scuola Normale is an elite school that gives regular musical performances in and around the city.

Culture vultures eager to enjoy some classical favourites this Christmas can head to the Teatro Verdi, where the Scuola Normale will give their tribute to Rameau, Mozart and Beethoven on December 11th and play music from Von Weber and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy on December 18th.

The world’s first museum for ice cream opens in Italy

People of all ages love ice cream and there’s no better refreshment during the summer time. Especially people who were lucky enough to have tasted original Italian ice cream know that the Italians have perfected the art of making ice cream. Since Italian ice cream has become a seal of quality, Italy will soon open the doors to the first museum in the world that is dedicated totally to ice cream. The museum itself is located in Anzola Dell’Emilia near Bologna in Northern Italy. If you are planning to spend a vacation in Italy, paying the museum for ice cream a visit is definitely one of the things to do in Italy this summer. You will have to wait until the end of September, however, since the museum will open on the 27th of September for the first time.

Of course the museum doesn’t just offer various sorts of ice cream but a total of over 10,000 pictures and documents, including the very first handwritten recipe for ice cream. Various multimedia installations allow the visitors to delve deep into the history of gelato and learn different trivia facts. Who would have thought, for example, that the first time that eggs and cream were used to produce ice cream was in Florence, in the 17th century? Keeping the ice frozen however, was very expensive back then so that ice cream was only available to rich families. Later on, when waves of emigrants left Italy, they took recipes for ice cream with them and made it popular in the whole world.

Nowadays ice cream is available nearly everywhere, and the museum offers a great opportunity to look at the very origins of a sweet that is nowadays taken for granted.

Travelport launches mobile application for Italian youth

Travelport Inc, a business services provider to the global travel industry, has announced that it has launched a new mobile application for Italian youth.

The company said that its mobile app has been developed for CTS Viaggi, the Italian member of the WYSET (World Youth Student and Educational Travel) Confederation. Called CTS Mobile, the app may be used by those that have Apple and Android products. It is available for download from Google Play and the Apple App Store.

The company said that the new product allows travellers to search for flights and hotels using maps. Search results may be filtered by price or proximity. Once the traveller has identified a flight or hotel, he or she can immediately book the same through a credit-card transaction. The development of CTS Mobile is part of an ongoing cooperation between Travelport and CTS Viaggi to provide youth travel services across all the latest platforms and devices.

Damiano Sabatino, Travelport’s general manager for Southern Europe, said, ‘We hear almost daily how important smartphones are and their impact on everyday life in Italy, and we also know how important this channel is for travel. At Travelport we are delighted to be bringing innovative mobile solutions to our customers and the travelling public.’

Travelport, a provider of critical transaction processing solutions, has a presence in 170 countries and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. CTS Viaggi is a tour operator that seeks to promote the organisation and distribution of quality tourism services for its 215,000 cardholders.

 

Rome Suffering Tourism Theft of Ancient Hardware Say Authorities

Tourism authorities in Rome are being plagued by a unique problem, that of tourists, mainly Europeans, and including some British travellers, stealing cobblestones, marble mile markers and pieces of mosaic that are artefacts from ancient Rome, and taking them home with them as souvenirs.

Travellers are being apprehended at the customs desks of two Italian airports, Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino and Rome Ciampino, for trying to smuggle 2,000 year-old hardware and artefacts taken from the streets of Rome, said the security officials and Roman police.

Italian police chief, Antonio Del Greco, told the Daily Mail, ‘It’s a particularly unusual theft and at the same time it’s one that we are finding is on the increase and happening more and more often.

Those primarily responsible are northern Europeans who have simply picked up a loose cobblestone or piece of mosaic they have found while wandering around Rome.

They then put it in their luggage and take it home with them as a souvenir of their holiday – we have also found large milestones made from marble in suitcases that have been taken from the Appian Way.’

Umberto Broccoli, the superintendent of culture for Rome city council, said in an interview, ‘I should warn all tourists that the city’s rich heritage should not be touched. What these people do by stealing these items is show their ignorance.

I can understand the legend and splendour that is Rome but that does not mean bits of it should be stolen by all means tourists should take as many pictures as they like but they should not help themselves to cobblestones or other items even if they appear to be discarded. If they want a souvenir of their visit then they should buy something from a shop.’

Europe’s Summer Festivals On Offer

For those holidaymakers who have yet to decide how to spend their summer vacation this year, consider spending it in Europe, and avoid the crowds that are expected to descend on the UK for the 2012 London Olympics Games.

In the summer Europe offers numerous events and activities for both local and international visitors, and here are just a few suggestions. The Paris Street Music Festival is held annually in Paris, France, on June 21, 2012. Also known as the ‘Fete de la Musique’, it is open to any amateur or professional musician who wishes to perform in it. The concerts are held on roadsides and public open spaces, as well as in cafes and bars. Launched in 1982 by the French Ministry for culture, the Fete de la Musique is currently held, not only in Paris, but in around a hundred other countries in Europe and across the world, celebrating the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere.

Italy is hosting its historic festival, the Sagra de San Giovanni, on the banks of Lake Como, during the last weekend of June. The festival includes the casting of hundreds of floating lamps on to the lake, a series of firework displays, performances of art and dancing, and an early morning parade of decorated boats.

For visitors to Spain, August is the month when the Valencia Tomato Fight Festival, La Tomatina, is held in the town of Bunol, where participants throw tomatoes at each other. Held on the last Wednesday of August, the festival sees hordes of tourists descend on Bunol to participate in the event. Around 40 metric tons of tomatoes are thrown during the festival every year.

Travellers Prefer New Destinations

Travellers prefer new undiscovered destinations, according to a survey conducted by Virtuoso, a US-based luxury travel network.

The 2012 Virtuoso Luxe Report indicates that Italy and France remain top favourite destinations for travellers in search of luxurious vacations, while England makes it to the top five favourite destinations of affluent travellers. Virtuoso clientele have expressed a preference to discover unexplored destinations in Cuba, followed by Cambodia and Belize, marking a new trend for adventurous travelling in 2012, which was less popular in previous years.

The five most popular destinations for family travel in 2012, according to the survey, are Italy, England, Costa Rica, Hawaii (US), and Turks and Caicos; while the top motives affecting travel choices include the search for genuine experiences in new destinations; rest and relaxation; and personal enrichment; which were same as those in 2011.

While survey results show that international travel maintains its appeal to travellers, luxurious river cruises are also proving to be an emerging travel trend, after family and multi-generational travel, which remains the top vacation choice for the upscale traveller.

Virtuoso chairman and chief executive officer, Matthew D Upchurch, CTC, said, ‘The Virtuoso traveller continues to look for new resorts and destinations to visit, personal enrichment and tailored experiences from their travels. Whether it’s a desire to explore new lands, reconnect with loved ones or seek new adventures, Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to plan the ultimate travel experience. The Luxe Report is an extension of that relationship and those ongoing advisor-client conversations.’

Destination Verona

‘In fair Verona where we lay our scene, from ancient grudge break to new mutiny’…. The poetic Shakespearan lines that introduce one of the worlds most famous plays, Romeo and Juliet reference Verona, Italy, as the city where the star crossed couple fell in love.

And ‘fair’ it is indeed. Quaint cobbled streets, eye-catching terracotta buildings and impressive ancient market squares all contribute to Verona’s unique beauty and make it no surprise that the city has been awarded world heritage site status by UNESCO, because of its urban structure and architecture.

Often over shadowed by neighbouring Venice, Verona really is one of Italy’s hidden gems. The city boasts the perfect mix of modernism and culture with plenty of high end designer shops but also traditional restaurants and cafes.

For the culture vultures amongst you there is plenty to see. You can visit the the pink marble Roman Arena, which has has been in Verona since the 1st century AD and survived a 12th-century earthquake. It has stood the test of time and is used as Verona’s legendary open-air opera house, with seating for 30,000 people.

Verona is home to many other ancient Roman monuments and architecture including the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore, which is considered one of the great achievements of the Roman era. Built during the 4th century as a shrine to Verona’s patron saint, St. Zeno, the exquisite  building dominates the large square, and is flanked with a beautiful 72 metres tall bell tower, which is mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy.

Verona’s rich history is endless but if you fancy something a little more light hearted, you can enjoy the scenery whilst wandering around designer stores such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci. If your wanting to get the most for you money, Verona is the perfect choice as it equals Venice in beauty but your money will go much further.

There are an abundance of quaint eateries and cafes to suit all tastes especially in the Piazza Bra, where you will be spoiled for choice and can sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery and atmosphere.

So, if you want to treat your loved one to a romantic break, or just want to experience some amazing Roman architecture and Italian charm, Verona could be the perfect choice for you!

Flights prices start from £37.99 one way flying with EasyJet.

Article by Lauren Probert

It’s Spring Break: take the kids to Italy

Make ancient Rome and Renaissance art come alive for your children with TourCrafters’ Spring Break package to Rome and Florence. It’s a better investment than a trip to Disney World.

The package – for 2 adults and 1 child up to 16 in a triple room – costs US$1,049 per adult and US$720 per child. For 2 adults and 2 children – in adjoining doubles in Rome and a large suite with queen and two singles in Florence – the price is US$1,209 per adult and US$830 per kid. These prices include air fare from New York, 4 nights’ accommodation at the 4-star Hotel Michelangelo in Rome, 4 nights at the 4-star Hotel Rivoli in Florence, 8 buffet breakfasts, arrival transfer, Hop On Hop Off tour of Rome, Eurostar train ticket, free ice cream for kids in each city, and a special kit, Florence guidebook, and restaurant discount for kids. Prices are valid from March 1 to 31, 2012.

This is the perfect opportunity to introduce the kids to the Italian lifestyle – not to mention authentic pizza, pasta, and gelato – as well as showing them the Roman Forum, Colosseum, catacombs, St. Peter’s, and other highlights of the Eternal City. They’ll enjoy the high-speed Eurostar train to Florence, and be amazed by Michelangelo’s David, the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s cafés, and maybe even a painting or two in the Uffizi.

All prices are per person, double occupancy, are subject to availability and do not include airport taxes of approximately US$100, fuel surcharges of approximately US$460, or city taxes that must be paid directly to the hotels in euros. Add-on air fares from other departure cities are: US$80 from Washington, DC, US$220 from Miami, US$150 from Chicago, and US$260 from Los Angeles.

Reservations must be paid for within 72 hours of booking. For additional information about this and other special Spring Break packages for couples, families, and friends to Italy, France, Spain, and Turkey, visit www.tourcrafters.com . For reservations, call 800-482-5995.

Consider Italy for your next caravan holiday

If you’re looking to go on a fun-filled driving holiday, Italy can offer everything you could possibly need. By taking your caravan and heading from Lake Garda in the north down to Pompeii in the south, you can see exciting cities and participate in amazing activities, while driving through the beautiful Italian countryside.

 

However, before you set off on your break it is important to have the proper financial protection in place in case you suffer an accident while away. Spend time searching for caravan insurance quotes and you can rest assured that in the event your leisure vehicle is damaged you will be covered.

 

Once you have sorted this out, you can start thinking about all the fun that can be had on a caravanning holiday through Italy. And there will certainly be plenty of opportunities for excitement in Lake Garda – the starting point of your trip.

 

As the largest body of water in the country, it should be of little surprise you can try a range of water sports here. These include windsurfing, boating, fishing and snorkelling. However, there is a lot for you to do on dry land. Given its location at the foot of the Italian Alps, Lake Garda is also a great place to go hiking and upon setting off from your caravan pitch you’ll get to walk through forest-covered hills and enjoy amazing alpine scenery.

 

If you’re after some white-knuckle thrills, however, you’ll be glad to know several theme parks are situated in the area, including Aqua Paradise Park and Gardaland.

 

However, there’s much more to explore beyond the Lake Garda region and by getting back on the road you’ll be able to soak up the beautiful Italian scenery on your way to Verona.

 

You’ll find amazing medieval and Roman architecture, so a visit here is sure to be a highlight of any driving holiday. Among the many buildings you can take in are the Renaissance-era San Giorgio church and the Verona Arena amphitheatre, while the city’s cathedral dates back to the sixth century.

 

Continue your journey southwards and you’ll eventually come to the amazing Amalfi Coast. This is a popular destination for many of those taking driving holidays through Italy and as you navigate the coastal roads, you can soak up amazing sea views and – upon parking your caravan – stop at charming small towns and relax on golden beaches.

 

In time, you’ll reach Naples. This coastal destination is one of the world’s oldest continually populated cities and there will be plenty of history and culture for you to soak up.

 

However, if you’re something of a foodie you may be particularly interested to note Naples is where pizza was first made in the late 19th century and there are numerous historic pizzerias where you can try authentic Italian cuisine. There are also plenty of Roman and Greek ruins to see, but if you want to really take a step back in time, make sure you visit the nearby city of Pompeii.

 

Following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, Pompeii was covered in ash and while the city’s residents were tragically killed this helped to preserve many of its buildings and streets. Today it is the largest archaeological site in Europe and by wandering around the partially-excavated settlement, you can get an idea of what Roman life was like 2,000 years ago.

 

With so many fantastic places to see on a driving holiday in Italy, taking a caravan can provide you with the freedom to travel around at a pace that suits you and ensure you’ll always have somewhere to stay. However, you should make sure that you seek out caravan insurance online first so that you will be covered in case your touring caravan is damaged.

 

No matter what caravan holiday spot you choose, by taking a driving holiday through Italy you can be confident of having an amazing time.

Tourist tax begins in Venice

Venice has become even more expensive for tourists, when last week the ‘tourist tax’ came in to force.

When plans emerged from the Venetian authorities last year about the plans to charge tourists a fee for overnight stays, they were met with critisism.

Tourists wanting a relaxing weekend break will now have to pay as much as €5 per person.

The fee is determined by hotel star-ratings, with a couple staying in a 3-star hotel paying an extra €6 on top of the bill.

Luxury travellers staying at one of the city’s gilded five-star options – such as the celebrated Hotel Cipriani – will have to pay the full €5 each.

Defending the ‘tourist tax’ Venice has suggested it is a cultural donation rather than a government levy interested in squeezing a little more from its tourist economy that sees 60,000 people visit every day.

Imposed to protect the city, the imposta di soggiorno, is said to be needed to protect the heritage of Venice which was once at the centre of the European empire.

‘This tax is a new and important opportunity for the city,’ Venice’s deputy mayor Sandro Simionato recently said. ‘The fundamental objective, which will also involve tourists who visit and love Venice, is to save this unique city, which is precious and fragile.’

A brochure outlines the reasons behind the new tax.

‘You will become one of the city’s sponsors, contributing to safeguarding it,’ the brochure explains.

It is illustrate with a sticker that states: ‘Thank you for being a sponsor of the splendour of Venice.’

Mr Simionato’s also stated:

‘The tax will help finance tourism, maintenance of cultural heritage sites, the environment, as well as public services’.

This may not please the tourists that will now be sponsoring domestic funding for the city.

Local authorities will be allowed, through government rules, the spend revenue on public services – tourists could end up paying for matters that should be covered by Italian tax euros.